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5 Red Flags to Look for on a Dog Food Label

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When it comes to choosing the best food for your furry friend, the label on the dog food bag can be your first clue. However, not all labels are created equal. There are some red flags you should be aware of that could indicate the quality of the food may not be up to par. In this post, we’ll explore five red flags to look for on a dog food label, helping you make more informed decisions about what to feed your beloved canine companion.

  • Ingredient Splitting
  • Missing AAFCO Statement
  • Incomplete Nutritional Profile and Information
  • Based on Human Diet Trends
  • Emotional Marketing
5 Red Flags to Look for on a Dog Food Label

Ingredient Splitting in Pet Food

Ingredient splitting is a sneaky tactic used by many pet food manufacturers to make their products appear healthier and more meat-focused than they are.

This involves breaking down a single ingredient into smaller components and listing them separately on the label.

For example, instead of listing “Oats” as the main ingredient, a label might list “Oats,” “Oat Meal,” “Oat Flour”, and “Rolled Oats” separately. In doing so, a single meat source (such as fresh chicken, which is mostly water) can move to the top of the ingredients list.

This can give the impression that there is more meat in the finished food than there is.

Identifying this practice can be challenging, as at times a dog food company may only use parts of a whole ingredient (for example, pea fiber + pea protein). That can be a normal aspect of proper formulation.

However, if you see a whole version of the ingredient split multiple ways, that’s a red flag (for example, whole peas, yellow peas, pea protein, pea flour, pea fiber, green peas).


U.S. Based Pet Food With No AAFCO Statement

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets standards for pet food nutrition and labeling. A reputable dog food brand will include an AAFCO statement on its label, indicating that the food has been formulated to meet the nutritional requirements established by AAFCO.

The absence of this statement could mean that the food has not undergone rigorous testing or does not provide complete and balanced nutrition for your dog.

Pet foods that do not contain an AAFCO statement also make it hard for pet parents to determine if the food is formulated specifically for their pet’s life stage and size.

Here are some examples of AAFCO statements that you want to see on your pet’s food bag:

  1. “This product is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages.”
  2. “This product is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth, including growth of large size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).”
  3. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for adult dogs.”
  4. “Formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and reproduction.”
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Limited Nutritional Profile Information

Transparency is key when it comes to choosing the right dog food. If a brand is not forthcoming about the nutritional profile of its products, it’s a major red flag. Look for brands that provide detailed information about the ingredients used, the guaranteed analysis (including protein, fat, and fiber content), and any additional nutritional benefits. Limited access to this information could indicate that the brand has something to hide.

If you have a large or giant breed puppy under the age of two, look for the calcium level on the bag. If you have to chase this information down, look elsewhere.

It’s concerning how many individuals inadvertently feed their large puppies the wrong food, often with excessively high calcium content, due to the lack of readily available information on the packaging.

Many companies publish more comprehensive nutritional information on their websites. If you have to call or email them, and they seem unwilling or unable to be transparent about any nutrient you ask for, find a different pet food company.

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The Food Is Based on a Human Diet Trend

Just like with human food trends, there are trends in the pet food industry too. Some brands may capitalize on these trends by marketing their products as being based on popular human diet trends, such as gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, or keto.

While these labels may appeal to health-conscious pet owners, it’s important to remember that dogs have different nutritional needs than humans. It’s also important to note that most registered dieticians agree, and will argue with sources, that diet trends are damaging and dangerous.

Choosing a dog food based solely on human diet trends without considering your dog’s specific dietary requirements could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Read more about toxic diet culture in humans and how it relates to colonialism and racism, HERE.

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Reliance on Negative or Emotional Marketing

Watch out for dog food labels that rely heavily on emotional marketing tactics rather than factual information about the product.

While heartwarming images of happy dogs, roasted meats, and fresh vegetables seem appealing, they do not necessarily reflect the quality or nutritional value of the food. Instead, focus on the facts presented on the label (such as nutrition information), and look into the value of the company making the marketing claims.

Does the company have a qualified nutritionist on staff?

Do they have strict quality control?

Additionally, steer clear of companies that use negative marketing in their promotions.

Negative marketing refers to the practice of promoting a product or brand by disparaging or criticizing competitors or their offerings.

This can include directly attacking competitors’ products, making false or exaggerated claims about their shortcomings, or using fear-based tactics to undermine their credibility.

Instead of focusing on the merits of their products, companies engaging in negative marketing seek to gain a competitive edge by highlighting perceived flaws in rival offerings. While this approach may attract attention in the short term, it can ultimately damage the brand’s reputation and erode consumer trust.

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5 Red Flags to Look for on a Dog Food Label

When it comes to choosing the right food for your dog, it’s important to be an informed consumer. By keeping an eye out for these five red flags on a dog food label – ingredient splitting, absence of an AAFCO statement, limited access to the nutritional profile, reliance on diet trends, and emotional marketing – you can ensure that you’re making the best choice for your furry friend’s health and well-being. Remember, a little extra scrutiny now can lead to a happier, healthier pup in the long run.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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